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Question Number: 35115

Other 9/25/2023

RE: NFL Adult

Robert T Durkee of Mentor, Ohio USA asks...

I'm watching the Eagles beating the Buccaneers. When the Eagles were only a yard or less from the end zone. they came out with a formation with all the players very close to each. Then, they ran a QB sneak. However, the QB was pushed from behind by a TE or RB. Isn't that a helping-the-runner penalty?

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Robert
Unfortunately this is a soccer site not covering American Football. So we are unable to answer your question as a football referee.
I like to watch the odd American football game from time to time and as a referee I look to see how the game is officiated.
I did a little research of your question out of curiosity and helping the runner, also called assisting the runner and aiding the runner, is a penalty that occurs when an offensive player pulls or carries the ball carrier in order to gain additional yards. The online wisdom suggests that though originally a common call, the penalty has become extremely rare, having last been called at the professional level in 1991?
If I use a soccer analogy there is an impeding offence which does not involve contact. It is an offence I have not seen called since it was introduced. So while it is in the law book it is rarely if ever called. It old predecessor Obstruction was regularly called in games but when replaced with impeding without contact it is never called.
As a casual observer of Americans football my observation is that it is an obvious contact sport and that in these touchdown plays that it is nigh impossible to determine helping the runner. In fact I thought much like in rugby that assisting the ball carrier is part of the game.
Having looked at the incident it did not look to me any different than what happens every single time. I just saw two sets of players pile into each other in opposite direction with the ball somewhere in there being carried by a player. In the scheme of things both sets of players are pushing in opposite directions and to the untrained observer who does not know the game I cannot see anything out of the ordinary that does not happen every single time.
I guess you well might be correct yet when it is common place and never called it is not getting called here either. No one wants to be the referee outlier making a call that no one expects.
The infamous incident in the 2012 London Olympic semi final between USA and Canada when Referee Christina Pedersen called an IDFK for the Canadian goalkeeper holding the ball longer than 6 seconds which happens all the time yet rarely called in the game springs to mind. The call sparked a furore and the referee took a lot of abuse for the call which was technically correct. It was a brave call and one that I understand she said she would make again if required.
Put it like this. If the sides were only separated by a couple of points in an American football game in the last minute and a touchdown was disallowed for helping the runner as shown in your example to win the game I think the reaction would be extremely negative. Therein is an answer methinks

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Answer provided by Referee MrRef

HI Robert ,
as my colleague has explained we are not a pointy ball site but rather a football site as it applies to what you know as soccer. I suspect his analogy of the situation you described to be a pretty decent evaluation of the question you asked as his knowledge and wisdom exceeds just his abilities on the soccer FOP. That said, I played a version of pointy ball as a youth and I recall two players using their hands into which the running back stepped into and they threw him over the defensive wall like a catapult. I recall it being whistled back perhaps that version of the call you described was applied? Yet that was over 50 years ago lol
From our pitch to your pitch in the spirit of fair play!

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